So we hauled the CAT and it was all blown apart. It was the sub had fired a torpedo, which homed in on our CAT and blew it all to bits.
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Frank Aldred, I was born in Toronto, May the 18th, 1921. We patrolled off Antofagasta, Chile, working with separately two and one British cruiser: the [HMS] Diomede, the [HMS] Despatch,, and the [HMS] Caradoc. There were three German merchant ships in Antofagasta Harbour. And Chile was neutral, so belligerents could go in there for, I think, 48 hours, for oil and stores. Anyway, the three of them were in there, they had intelligence reports because they had spies there, agents. And whether they contacted us or Admiralty and then the Admiralty would send signals to our ship, I don’t know what went on, but we were patrolling to either intercept them, if they tried to make a run for it, or take them over if they applied for anything. When you’re out there, nothing to see but water and stand your watches…the days just run together.
But we were patrolling Costa, Chile, off Antofagasta for some days and then we got the signal that one of the ships had scuttled in the harbour and the other two were making a break for it. So this was before radar and the ship wouldn’t have been fitted with it anyway. But we estimated what course they would attempt and tried to intercept. And we tracked down one of them and as soon as they saw us, they set fire to the ship. So then we left it and went looking for the other one. And then we tracked it down and fired one shot across the bows, they set fire to it and abandoned ship and we picked them up. We took them aboard as prisoners and we tied up alongside. The two ships that we intercepted were the München and the Hermonthis. We tied up alongside the Hermonthis because the South Pacific was calm, it was amazing after the Atlantic. And we tied up alongside and tried to put the fires out but they wouldn’t tell us how to turn the pumps on. And besides they’d opened the sea cocks. So we had to cast off.
We cruised around the damn thing for, it seemed to me like hours, firing down six-inch shells into it. You could see that it was, the ship side was just red hot, just red hot steel. And it wouldn’t sink. But finally we left and went and looked for the other one. The British cruiser ended up sinking the one that we had left, and I think the Chilean navy sank the other one.
On the [HMCS] Skeena, I was just a naval seaman but they called it non-substantive rate, no gunnery rate, no torpedo rate. But after I was drafted off the Skeena, I went in for seaman torpedo, which was nine weeks for an added 10 cents a day. And then when I got finished my seaman torpedo course, I didn’t want to get on a corvette. They called them steam canoes. And we knew one of the chiefs in the torpedo drafting office, so we went and saw him and we yelled at him, Joe, any chance of a destroyer draft? So he said, yeah, how would you like a Niobe draft? I said, great. He said, okay, I’ll put you down for Saskatchewan. That was HMCS Saskatchewan, what used to be HMS Fortune.
And I was in charge or my job was to keep all the fans and motors running. We didn’t know a hell of a lot, I’ll tell you. But we got there and then finally, after … I should mention, I guess, we were down in the jammer for D-Day, I’m doing the usual thing, just searching for subs and keeping them out of the way. And one time, they picked up a, what they thought was a sub on the surface, on the radar, it was foggy as hell and you couldn’t see a thing. And the captain, we got the orders to standby to ram, so we’re all laying down with our feet up against the bulkhead or something. And roaring in at 24 knots and nothing. Turned around, start up again, standby to ram, and finally, they found out that there had actually been a sub there and it had released a balloon, a big balloon with foil strips hanging down from it and it was a hanger to some floating thing, so it didn’t disappear. And that’s what the radar picked up and we almost rammed the balloon.
In, what was it, 1943, 1944, the Germans came out with the acoustic torpedo. They didn’t have to have a good shot at the ship. The torpedo would zero in on the vibrations from the ship’s screws [propellers]. So as long as they fired a torpedo close or even remotely close to a ship that was moving, the torpedo would be attracted to the ship’s screws and it didn’t have to hit the ship, it just got within a certain range, it would explode. All our ships, I guess all the Allied escort ships were issued with a noisemaker, consisting of two steel bars, loosely held in place and dragged behind the ship. And they were loose so they’d vibrate with maybe a half-inch space between them. And as they were towed, the water would rush between the bars and make them vibrate and make a noise. And ours was called a counter-acoustic torpedo or CAT gear.
We were torpedomen, we always stood our watches on the quarterdeck where all the depth charges are. And it was our job to stream the CAT or haul it in. We had to pull it in if it had an echo;, ASDIC [sonar submarine detection system] or sonar, if they picked up an echo on sonar, they’d generally speed up and that made, the CAT made more noise and that would confuse the ASDIC operator and we’d have to haul in the CAT, which was streamed on I don’t know what it was, 300 feet of steel wire rope and there was always little breaks in the wire, all along and the little strands of wire sticking up. And as you hauled it in, your hands were taken an awful beating. We hated that CAT.
We were on patrol as I said for submarines, keep the subs out. We had the CAT was streamed, we were towing the CAT, and there was a big explosion astern. And we thought, oh, aircraft, they bombed us up. So we’re looking in the sky, there was no plane to be seen. Then somebody said, maybe it’s a shore battery, they can fire this far. So we’re waiting to see if anything else came around and no. And somebody said, maybe it’s the CAT. So we hauled the CAT and it was all blown apart. It was the sub had fired a torpedo, which homed in on our CAT and blew it all to bits.